Tag Archives: intellectual property

New Fronts in the Copyfight: new research series in the OA journal DSCN

I’m pleased to announce the launch of New Fronts in the Copyfight: Multidisciplinary Directions in Critical Copyright Studies, a peer-reviewed series of research articles on intellectual property and the digital milieu, which I am guest-editing for Canada’s open-access, digital humanities journal, Digital Studies/Le Champ Numérique (DSCN).

The series opens with an introduction, “Copyright concerns all academics,” that argues for greater knowledge of copyright and intellectual property among Canadian academics.

The first two articles in the series are now available:

1) “Pornographers and Pirates: Intellectual Property and Netporn” by SSHRC-winning Brock MA student Sarah Mann.

“As netporn businesses struggle for control over porn distribution and consumption, they facilitate their own survival by generating new sexual, social and economic norms. These norms mediate between the “pirate” culture promised by technology and the culture industry’s interest in legitimising and entrenching intellectual property rights.”

2) “The Rise, Fall, and Rise of ACTA?” by Athabasca U political scientist Jay Smith.

“This paper argues that the spirit of ACTA may live on in a host of other trade agreements currently being negotiated. That is, ACTA, or even more restrictive versions of it, could be imposed through the back door at least upon weaker states through bilateral agreements with the United States and the European Union.”

Further articles are in the works, and will be announced as they become available. The series hopes to take advantage of DSCN’s open access digital format in order to promote greater critical awareness of copyright and IP issues among academics, students, and the public.

Access Copyright sues York U over fair dealing policy

Access Copyright – the photocopy royalty-collecting society that has gradually morphed into a lobbying-and-lawsuit engine – continues its misadventures in litigation this week with  a lawsuit against York University over the institution’s fair dealing policy.

For preliminary expert analysis on the developing situation, see Howard Knopf’s blog post, and Michael Geist’s post on the legal action:

Access Copyright has decided to fight the law – along with governments, educational institutions, teachers, librarians, and taxpayers … it has filed a lawsuit against York University over its fair dealing guidelines, which are similar to those adopted by educational institutions across the country. While the lawsuit has yet to be posted online, the Access Copyright release suggests that the suit is not alleging specific instances of infringement, but rather takes issue with guidelines it says are “arbitrary and unsupported” and that “authorize and encourage copying that is not supported by the law.”

Read Access Copyright’s Statement of Claim against York University here.

Stakeholders in copyright and Canadian education are questioning the timing of the action, and the targeting of York, seeing the action as – variously – a test, as a fishing expedition, and/or as an intimidation tactic to chill the more robust and eminently lawful approach to fair dealing that is taking hold across Canadian schools and campuses. It may be too soon to forecast a decision, but the recent case law history and the now-amended copyright legislation (which explicitly provides for educational fair dealing) are both decidedly in York’s favour. The “quintet” of Supreme Court copyright cases that were decided last summer – cases that included Alberta (Education) v. Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency (Access Copyright) – have helped to restore some balance to Canadian copyright law in favour of users (for a welcome change), and, in the process, have made the legal climate very inhospitable to actions like the one Access Copyright is now pursuing.

One has to wonder whether all the money Access Copyright spends on legal expenses wouldn’t be better reallocated to its core business: remunerating writers.

“Decisive action” = “a ferocious onslaught on the fabric of civil society”

The enthusiasm shown by Harper regime ministers for British PM Cameron’s speech to Parliament yesterday can only be taken as chilling foreshadowing for what the neoconservative cabal has planned for Canada.

The Hargreaves Report from this past spring and the minor concessions to users’ rights (which my tweet above misidentified as DRM exemptions…my bad!) are the only sensible policy manoeuvres I’ve seen come out of the UK’s new Coalition Turdstep.

Otherwise, I tend to agree with the analysis of Britain’s pre-eminent Cultural Studies scholar, Stuart Hall, in his Sept. 12 Guardian editorial:

Since the early days of Thatcher we have not seen such a ferocious onslaught on the fabric of civil society, relationships and social life.

We need to closely read what rulers like these say. They say the world faces a “debt crisis” but decades of tax breaks for the very rich have created what’s more accurately described as a revenue crisis. And as for “decisive action” can mean only one thing to them: the double-edged hatchet for corporate tax cuts and public service cuts. To make that math add up to a just and productive society: that is the stuff of “naive dreamers.” And more of it will leave the road to renewal looking ever more like just The Road.

What’s Battlestar Galactica got to do with the copyfight?

My article on Battlestar Galactica and Canada-USA tensions over copyright is now available in open access full text at AU’s repository (courtesy of Liverpool UP). At the link you can read the abstract and download the PDF.

McCutcheon, Mark A. “Downloading Doppelgängers: New Media Anxieties and Transnational Ironies in Battlestar Galactica.” Science Fiction Film and Television 2.1 (2009): 1-24.

So what’s Battlestar got to do with copyright? Briefly, the show was produced in the USA, but it was shot in Canada, and it cast Canadian actors as the lead bad guys, who “download” a lot. At press time, Bill C-61 was on the table, but the argument remains relevant to C-32’s expected successor. The recently leaked cables showing the “U.S. swayed Canada on copyright bill” (Geist) add fresh evidence to my claims.

The OA version has neither the layout nor the frame-grab still shots from Battlestar that grace the publisher’s version. There’s an ironic copyright backstory story here. I got the proofs of my article laid out with lots of these still frames — none of which I’d chosen, let alone cleared. I told the editor the images added great illustrative value, but I was concerned about their copyright status — wouldn’t their uncleared use lead to litigation? The editor replied to say that, although “the copyright law around frame-grabbed images” had not yet been tested,

it is the case in the UK that they can be used without obtaining permission (and in the US and Canada, they are covered by fair-use clauses – at least until they too are tested in court). Publishers like [***] Press regularly use images without obtaining permission. We discussed this issue with Liverpool UP before launching the journal and they are prepared to go along with our understanding of the situation; and we do always credit the source of images, even though this is not strictly necessary.

Imagine my delight, then, that this essay on copyright got to appear in print accompanied by illustrative images used legally but without the Hollywood producers’ permission.

It’s only fair that research on copyright law should be openly accessible. It’s a bonus that fair dealing became a principle of this work’s form.

Work Cited

Geist, Michael. “Leaks show U.S. swayed Canada on copyright bill.” Toronto Star 3 Sept. 2011.

Call for papers on Literature & the Copyfight, for Congress 2012

Call for papers: Literature & the Copyfight, Congress 2012.

Critical scholarship is urgently needed to intervene on the question of copyright: once a staple stimulus for literary and cultural production that now tends more to stifle it. … This session invites papers on the relationship between literature, copyright, and the copyfight.

The deadline for submissions is 15 Nov. 2011 (see link for contact info). Thanks to ACCUTE and SDH for joint hosting.

[Instead of posting the complete call for papers here, I’m practicing not duplicating content.]

Uploading to Youtube: “derivative work” or “public display”?

Browsing the OER Commons for course content, I found some introductory videos, in Quicktime format, about the Harlem Renaissance, licensable for educational use.

Experimentally, I uploaded one to the Landing (AU’s social network), to see if it would play in that network’s default media player (Flowplayer). It wouldn’t. A subsequent Landing discussion about the tech trouble has led me to consider Youtube as a technical workaround: if the Quicktime video won’t play in the Landing, a Youtube version of it will.

But anything involving Youtube and third-party content involves legal as well as technical questions. The question here is whether uploading to Youtube a video used under Creative Commons-type  licensing (specifically, a Teachersdomain.org “Download and Share” license) is okay or not.

The license wording seems ambiguous on the question of Youtube uploading, and in need of interpretation. On one hand, the license expressly forbids “derivative works”: you may not make “a translation, musical arrangement, dramatization, fictionalization, sound recording, art reproduction, abridgment, condensation, or any other form in which the Work may be recast, transformed, or adapted.” Uploading this video to Youtube means transforming — or, arguably, translating — the work from Quicktime format to flash-video format. However, the vocabulary and context of the license language here seems to suggest not technical but creative transformation.

So on the other hand, provided the use is for educational purposes only, the license does allow you to “distribute, publicly display, publicly perform (digitally or otherwise) the Work (as long as it is properly acknowledged and attributed).” This language seems less ambiguous: it does permit public, digital display. That seems to speak to what Youtube is about.

I’m not a legal expert, so I’m inclined to err on the side of caution here. But given how new Creative Commons-type licensing is, and how clear and robust fair use is (the content is USA-made), I find it an interesting case to consider on the matter of educational-use repurposing.

Cross-blogged from the AU Landing

IP and OA: price and access in academic publishing

Having just signed a copyright agreement with Taylor & Francis (one of the Anglophone world’s biggest academic publishers), I was pleased to see some provisions for noncommercial and educational sharing. I wouldn’t call them optimal provisions, but better than some — so they’re good to see in such a big publishing conglomerate.

It’s always critically important to read an academic publishing copyright agreement, even in cases where there’s zero remuneration (which is, for articles, quite a lot of them, in my experience). What’s especially important to scrutinize is the agreement’s provision for open access. Fugitive philosopher Tobias van Veen found out the hard way that one publisher’s failure to hold up its end of a contractual agreement to perpetual accessibility didn’t prevent it from sending a cease & desist on discovering he’d taken it upon himself to ensure access, afer the journal in which his work was published had been unaccountably disappeared. (Undaunted, he has since counter-filed against the publisher.)

If the agreement doesn’t seem clear enough, refer to the publisher’s listing in the SHERPA/RoMEO database, which describes the open access (OA) policies of most academic publishers today, big or small. This is a very useful database: it uses a colour-coding system to clearly indicate how free an academic author may or may not be to make one’s research publicly accessible in an institutional repository like AU Space. The open access to research that such repositories afford is, itself, important as academic culture increasingly prioritizes public outreach, accountability, and “knowledge mobilization.” For individual researchers, open access represents an opportunity to reach a potentially much wider audience than individual or institutional subscribers. It occurs to me that greater awareness of OA and IP among academic authors could eventually affect how journals are ranked — not just according to a traditional ideal of specialist prestige, but perhaps also according to an emerging ideal of public service.

Open access is far from being evenly or widely adopted among publishers, to be sure. Many academic publishers not only charge subscription fees for institutions to catalogue journals, but also charge purchase fees for individual articles. And now, as open access gains momentum, some publishers are now “offering” to provide open access for an article — if the author pays them a premium to do so.

What’s with scholarly journal economics: most pay $0 to publish article; charge $30 to buy it; & now, with Open Access, want authors to pay?

To take stock of my own publication record in the context of IP and OA. Counting the article for which I’ve just assigned copyright, I’m looking at thirteen refereed articles. Three are in OA journals (of otherwise uncertain rank): Socialist Studies, Borrowers & Lenders, and Post-Identity. Two for Canadian Theatre Review paid actual money — and both are publicly accessible (one via an individual arrangement; the other, as I’ve just discovered, via the publisher, as promotional content).

As for the accessibility of publishers I’ve printed works with: Cambridge UP and Rodopi rank with SHERPA/RoMEO as “green” publishers (most accommodating of OA); U of Toronto P and Taylor & Francis as “yellow” (somewhat accommodating); and Liverpool UP as “white” (less accommodating). Of the publishers not listed in SHERPA/RoMEO: two (U of Texas P and West Chester U) offer institutionally subscribed electronic full-text access and print article purchase ($15 USD for a single article from Texas; $20 for a journal issue from West Chester); and, lastly, one independent publisher (at the U of San Diego) offers only institutionally or individually subscribed print access, which seems positively medieval (I should write to them to request OA release for that essay).

Some of the bigger publishers also offer purchase “options” for non-subscribers or readers without access to university libraries: my U of Toronto Quarterly article sells for $13 USD from U of Toronto P; my Popular Music article, for $30 USD from Cambridge; and my Science Fiction Film & TV article, for $35 USD from Liverpool.

Don’t mistake this post for solicitation or advertisement. I’m not expecting any royalties on these — and actually, I wonder who would spring for them? (I also wonder where the money goes.) I should also say that I’m not especially concerned to get paid by publishers for research articles. It’s a nice bonus when it happens, but writing research is part of my full-time job description already. And the terms on which many publishers provide personal and educational exemptions for contributors and repositories are adequate and fair. I certainly don’t intend to stop publishing with academic presses (if they’ll have me, after this post). I’m mostly concerned, here, about these variable costs and means of public access to refereed research. And the initiative by some publishers to charge authors a premium for rendering their own work openly accessible is a highly questionable practice (it smacks ever so slightly of vanity publishing). So when you read the fine print of a copyright agreement, do so as though it’s under a microscope, or facing a hot bright interrogation lamp.

Cross-blogged from the AU Landing

Teachers, it’s time to flex fair dealing.

Yesterday, a happy coincidence: first, a highschool friend, now an educator, asked me out-of-the-blue on Facebook (it’s the kind of thing I love about FB) a question about copyright infringement cases involving educators; second, I received CAUT‘s new Guidelines for the Use of Copyrighted Material, a must-read primer on fair dealing for educators. I’ve reproduced my friend’s question and my response, extending the latter with more about fair dealing and CAUT’s guide — because more educators need to know how liberally we can and should be exercising our robust fair dealing rights.

Q: I need an example of a Canadian Copyright Infringement Case related to academics or education and am having trouble finding anything interesting on the net…. I thought you may have a ready example given your recent involvement on the subject. Any thoughts or suggestions on where I can find what I’m looking for?

A: Probably the most important case for copyright and education in Canada was Law Society of Upper Canada v. CCH Canadian in 2004. Michael Geist outlines and links to it in a recent blog post about fair dealing.

Canada’s Heritage ministry has some analysis of it (but keep in mind that this is one of the ministries responsible for tabling Bill C-32). The ministry analysis considers the opportunities and implications of the CCH decision, one important result of which is simply its formal recognition in law that “fair dealing, as construed by the court, now allows for a more flexible framework.” And while the ministry’s analysis suggests problems raised by the decision, it doesn’t suggest they’d be solved by the “digital locks” provision that made C-32 so hotly contested. Citing scholars’ and students’ dissatisfaction with licensing, the analysis attributes some of this to a failure of CanCopy (now Access Copyright) to recompense authors: “CanCopy ‘had more than $18 million in undistributed royalties, and no apparently systematic way of determining to whom this money belongs’.”)

Howard Knopf (whose blog, like Geist’s, is also very good on copyright) also summarizes the importance of CCH v. LSUC in this recent post:

…the CCH decision in the Supreme Court of Canada made it very clear that:
• “User rights are not just loopholes. Both owner rights and user rights should therefore be given the fair and balanced reading that befits remedial legislation.” and.
• “ The fair dealing exception under s. 29 is open to those who can show that their dealings with a copyrighted work were for the purpose of research or private study. ‘Research’ must be given a large and liberal interpretation in order to ensure that users’ rights are not unduly constrained.”

There are also some relevant fair dealing cases and appeals underway right now:

Province of Alberta v. Access Copyright. Knopf is blogging about it, as in this post from early May; according to Knopf, the case “involves the very important issue of whether material prescribed by a teacher or provided in multiple copies can be fair dealing.”

This blog post by Knopf makes reference to the SOCAN v. Bell case, which investigated “whether providing previews consisting of excerpts of works is fair dealing for the purpose of research that does not infringe copyright.” In May 2010, the Federal Court of Appeals decided that that the free 30-second previews provided by music download vendors like iTunes are to be treated as fair dealing for consumer research purposes. Geist is reporting new appeals to and interventions in that decision.

Notably, of these cases, only Alberta v. Access Copyright directly involves educational institutions. But all three cases have significant bearing on the educational exercise of fair dealing. Enter the CAUT Guidelines, and the following. As stated in the message to which CAUT attached its Guidelines:

There has been a good deal of controversy and conflicting advice regarding when copyrighted material may be copied without permission or payment to the copyright owner. CAUT is concerned that both users and owners of copyrighted material are treated fairly. To that end, CAUT has prepared the attached document [which] explains the legal foundation of copying rights and provides direction on its lawful exercise.

The “controversy and conflict” to which CAUT alludes has resulted from debates about Bill C-32 and about ACTA and CETA, from Access Copyright’s “astroturfing” against fair dealing in C-32, and also maybe from increasing actions over mere linking. Now dead but expected back from the grave soon, Bill C-32 promised good, clear fair dealing provisions for educators, albeit provisions trumped by protections for “digital locks” like DRM. Often compared to the USA’s DMCA, Bill C-32’s fair dealing for educators actually fell short of the flexible and generous provisions given US educators. Check out this syllabus for Martha Woodmansee’s course on copyright — look at all the freely available course readings. (If that’s what US fair use now affords, then Canadian fair dealing should, too.)

Access Copyright (AC) lobbied hard against C-32’s educational fair dealing provisions, all the while while negotiating a massively inflated licensing tariff for educators. The royalty-collecting society’s campaign, in effect, pitted the creators of published works against the educators who use them, caused much confusion over the perceived pros and cons of new copyright legislation, and also provoked lots of institutions to decline to renew their licensing agreements with AC. AC is vigorously opposing the fair dealing provisions in any new Canadian copyright legislation — after all, revised and expanded fair dealing provisions could well put a collecting agency like AC out of business.

Meanwhile, the mere act of hyperlinking is increasingly subject to regulation. In Crookes v. Newton (2009), the BC Court of Appeal ruled that a website owner is not liable for linking to defamatory sites, that decision is now being appealed. In March of this year, the US Dept of Homeland Security arrested an Internet user for linking. And AC’s proposed new tariffs for PSE call for the documentation of and collection of fees for any and all Internet linking done by teachers (this proposal has not been approved and could be debates for months if not years).

Taken together, all these different developments, together with privately imposed teaching policies and publishing guidelines (e.g. a limit of 150 words on quoted excerpts in refereed articles, which I’ve heard of anecdotally but can’t find documented), are chilling the climate for fair dealing, and enclosing that much more of the already shrinking commons of public knowledge. Which is to say, they’re chilling the climate for teaching. As Michael Geist told delegates at last year’s ABC Copyright Conference, fair dealing is a “use it or lose it provision”: if Canadian educators don’t start exercising our fair dealing rights more extensively and aggressively, we stand to lose them altogether under the pressure of Big Media’s hugely influential lobbying efforts.

Fortunately, court decisions like LSUC v. CCH can and should embolden us to flex our fair dealing rights, rather than shrink from doing so under threat of litigation. The legal precedents currently support a “large and liberal” interpretation of fair dealing, and, as public educators, we have, I think, an ethical responsibility — not to mention a huge convenience — to act on that interpretation, towards principled and productive pedagogy. Against the creeping chill over academic freedom and effective teaching, give CAUT’s Guidelines a read — take ten minutes to learn the basics of educational fair dealing — and start staking your claim to a patch of the knowledge commons. A modest and reasonable patch, tended properly and shared appropriately, can yield large and liberal teaching outcomes.

Works Consulted

CAUT. Guidelines for the Use of Copyrighted Material. Ottawa: CAUT/ACPPU, May 2011 http://www.caut.ca/uploads/Copyright_guidelines.pdf

Edmonds, Kelly. “Off with their heads! Copyright infringement in the Canadian online higher educational environment.” Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology 32.2 (2006) http://www.cjlt.ca/index.php/cjlt/article/view/52/49

Dhawan, Sona. “Potential Liability for Hyperlinking: Crookes v. Newton.” The Court [blog] 31 Mar. 2010 http://www.thecourt.ca/2010/03/31/potential-liability-for-hyperlinking-crookes-v-newton/

Federal Court of Appeal. Decisions of the Federal Court of Appeal [database]. http://decisions.fca-caf.gc.ca/en/index.html

Geist, Michael. “The Canadian Copyfight Story: The Next Chapter.” ABC Copyright Conference. Athabasca U, 21 June 2010.

—. Michael Geist’s Blog. http://www.michaelgeist.ca/

Knopf, Howard. Excess Copyright [blog]. http://excesscopyright.blogspot.com/

McCutcheon, Mark A. Academicalism [blog]. https://academicalism.wordpress.com/

Ministry of Canadian Heritage. “Fair Dealing in Canada.” Ottawa: Government of Canada, 22 May 2009. http://www.canadianheritage.gc.ca/pc-ch/org/sectr/ac-ca/pda-cpb/publctn/cch-2007/102-eng.cfm

Supreme Court of Canada. Judgments of the Supreme Court of Canada [database]. Lexum/Supreme Court of Canada. http://scc.lexum.org/en/

Woodmansee, Martha. Intellectual property and the Construction of Authorship [course syllabus]. Case Western Reserve U, n.d. http://www.case.edu/affil/sce/authorship/syllabus.html

Brace for incoming: return of the IP dread

Following the results of yesterday’s federal election, Steven Chase in today’s Globe and Mail opines on policies the new government will “move fast” to implement. Such as copyright legislation, which, like a zombie, keeps returning from the grave, ravenously clamouring for juicy intellectual properties:

on the front-burner will be legislation long sought by the United States to toughen up copyright protections for those who make movies, software and other creative works.

Breaking the digital encryption on a movie DVD – even if copying it for personal use – would make individual Canadians liable for legal damages of up to $5,000 under Tory plans. The intention is to put new legal heft behind the digital locks, or encryptions, that copyright holders place on products such as movies, video games and electronic books. Plus, the Tories want to go after the big fish in Internet copyright infringement, giving copyright owners stronger legal tools to shut down “pirate websites” in Canada that support file-sharing and introducing a separate criminal penalty of up to $1-million for serious cases where commercially motivated pirates crack digital encryptions.

So here it comes again. And no doubt faster, this time.

UPDATE: Just a follow-up counterpoint — Michael Geist has posted an unexpectedly upbeat (as in not wholly negative) take on the implications of #elxn41 for IP regulation change:

The copyright bill is – as I described at its introduction last June – flawed but fixable. I realize that it may be reintroduced unchanged (the Wikileaks cables are not encouraging), but with the strength of a majority, there is also the strength to modify some of the provisions including the digital lock rules. Clement spoke regularly about the willingness to consider amendments and the Conservative MPs on the Bill C-32 committee were very strong. If the U.S. has exceptions for unlocking DVDs and a full fair use provision, surely Canada can too. […] The end of the Bloc is great news on digital files as it was the Bloc, more than any other party, that promoted ISP levies, iPod levies, and a range of other new copyright fees.

So maybe it’s still too soon to tell if this particular copyright zombie will be more of a Rage virus victim or a handy Fido.

Before the Law: Histories of Copyright

You must imagine, at the eventual heart of things to come, linked or integrated systems or networks of computers capable of storing faithful simulacra of the entire treasure of the accumulated knowledge and artistic production of past ages…
–Benjamin Kaplan, 1967

Research for a talk I’ll be giving at #Congress11 includes reading some excellent studies of copyright in (or as) the history of literature. These studies share a couple of principles: they recognize the historical contingency of intellectual property law (it’s nothing natural), and they assert the fundamentally social character of all cultural production, in contrast to IP law’s attribution of it to individual “originality” (an attribution based on Romantic ideas of authorship). Mark Rose puts the matter succinctly in Authors and Owners: The Invention of Copyright:

The persistence of the discourse of original genius implicit in the notion of creativity […] obscures the fact that cultural production is always a matter of appropriation and transformation […] What finally underwrites the [modern copyright] system, then, is our conviction about ourselves as individuals. […] Copyright stands squarely on the boundary between private and public. (135, 139-40)

Paul Saint-Amour builds on Rose and other scholars in emerging cultural-economic fields — New Economic Criticism and Critical Cultural Legal Studies — to study copyright in Victorian and modern literature; however, his context is insistently that of the post-millennial copyfight, and he notes the contradictions of critiquing copyright on its own terms, through strategies of appropriation and infringement (like DJing, which I’ll be discussing elsewhere at Congress):

You can seldom criticize the law by breaking it and yet expect the law to forgive your infraction as criticism. Law is not an argument so much as an instrument of self-enforcement; thus, even breaking the law confirms the logic and categories of the law, which work to criminalize any transgressive act of dissent. In the case of property law, this circularity tightens further: criticizing standards of ownership can lapse into a near-absurdity when some of the most effective critical pathways — counterappropriation or parody, for example — are by definition already owned by someone else. (19-20)

(I was reminded of this comment when I found Martha Woodmansee’s syllabus for a course on “Intellectual Property and the Construction of Authorship,” with dozens of great readings made freely available for public download. If this is what fair use affords US educators, I’ll have what they’re having.)

The ability of the law to successfully prosecute infractions depends, in part, on how well the law makes itself seem natural, self-evident. Demystifying the self-evident naturalness of copyright law is a project of all these books, most ambitiously essayed in William St Clair’s The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period, a sweeping cultural-economic history that puts intellectual property law front and centre as a regulator of not just the publishing business, but also literary production and, most importantly, public access to reading.

Intellectual property has existed for so long that it is difficult to imagine a world without it, but it is not intrinsic to authorship, books, or reading as such, but it too came into existence in response to a conjuncture of economic circumstances which came together in the late fifteenth century. […] The intellectual property regime has changed frequently and drastically over the centuries. […] During the intervals when the normal intellectual property structures temporarily broke down, we can see that the whole economy of writing and reading immediately changed. (41)

So are we taking part, now, in a breakdown of IP structures, or in their further entrenchment? It can be bewildering and discouraging that the answers vary so wildly. Last week, copyright lawyer Howard Knopf blogged about Margaret Atwood’s comments on Bill C-32, which heighten “creator-vs.-educator” hostilities, and suggest misconceptions about IP law basics like fair dealing (which are especially troubling to see being expressed by such a major author). Histories of copyright bring some much-needed perspective to present debates so pressured by private-interest spin, by reminding us that copyright was invented to advance the public interest, and by suggesting ways to re-assert the priority of that interest and reclaim the cultural common wealth.

Works Cited
Kaplan, Benjamin. An Unhurried View of Copyright. New York: Columbia UP, 1967.
Rose, Mark. Authors and Owners: The Invention of Copyright. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1993.
Saint-Amour, Paul K. The Copywrights: Intellectual Property and the Literary Imagination. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2003.
St Clair, William. The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2004.